Category Archives: Reviews

Scholastic Voices

A series of gripping adventures that reflect the authentic, unsung stories of our past.

The series so far!

Last year Scholastic announced the launch of their new series of books, Voices, a series bringing to life BAME figures from British history, who’s stories are rarely told. I have been lucky enough to be sent the first two, both of which are fantastically paced, evocative, believable, heartbreaking, exciting, thought provoking, rage-inducing, and full of historically accurate information ripe for discussion. They are both brilliant stories in their own right, I expect to see them on topic reading lists in primary and secondary schools and in every school library, and I am really looking forward to finding out what is next in the series!


The world is at war and standing on the shores of Dunkirk, a young Indian soldier fights in defence of a Kingdom that does not see him as equal.
My trust in the kindness and decency of others ended. It seemed I had reached a point of no return...”

Bali Rai’s Now or Never

Bali Rai wrote the first, Now or Never: A Dunkirk Story, about a period of time that every British school child has to learn about, but an aspect of that historical event that has been brushed under the carpet by the history books. Faz is one of hundreds of Indians that volunteered to join the British army during WW2 and who were then so badly treated. Scholastic interviewed him about it here. It has been out since January.

When Eve and her mother hear that one of the African divers sent to salvage the Mary Rose is still alive, and that another wreck rich with treasures lies nearby, they set out to find him.

“The water was my destiny. I knew it…I breathed in slowly and slipped over the edge of the boat into the water.”

Patrice Lawrence’s Diver’s Daughter

The second book is Diver’s Daughter: A Tudor Story, from Patrice Lawrence, makes it clear that black people have been in Britain for a lot longer than the Windrush generation, and focussing on another oft-taught about feature of English history: Henry VIII’s flagship, Mary Rose. Her author’s note says she didn’t want to focus on slavery, but it is definitely clear that people of African descent were not safe despite it being illegal on English soil at that time. It is being published in May, look out for it.

Diver’s Daughter brought to mind Catherine Johnson’s many (and brilliant) historical novels…maybe she’ll do one of the future books in the series (fingers crossed)?

The Third Degree with Justin A. Reynolds

From debut author Justin A. Reynolds comes Opposite of Always, a razor-sharp, hilarious and heartfelt novel about the choices we make, the people we choose and the moments that make life worth reliving.

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, he knows he’s falling – hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

I was given a copy of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS at the CILIP YLG London Macmillan event in January, it was one of the books they told us about that I loved the sound of, so when I was given the opportunity to ask Justin some questions for the blog I rushed it to the top of my TBR pile, and boy am I glad I did! It isn’t your classic YA love story, it isn’t your classic teen angst story, but it is your classic teenager trying to deal with what life throws at him. Jack is a great protagonist, making terrible decisions and bad jokes while his family and friends stick by his side through thick and thin (so refreshing). It is funny and moving and totally engrossing, and I finished it in a day.

Hi Justin, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

‘Opposite of Always’ is your debut novel, was it a long journey to publication or was it snapped up?

Great question. The answer is actually a combination of both. Opposite of Always is my third or fourth completed manuscript, after drafting my first back at university; so, yes, it’s been a long journey in that sense. In fact, at one point, right before beginning this draft, I’d considered giving up writing altogether. Of course, now I’m glad I kept going. Once my agent took the story out on submission with publishers, we had immediate interest the very next day, and it was a whirlwind from there. I was very fortunate.

Do you still have a day job? How have you managed writing time?

Currently, writing is my day job, which is something I’d always dreamed of—writing full time. I do often think of my former occupation, though, with a special fondness; I was a registered nurse and had the privilege of assisting so many awesome patients get back on their feet. It was a very different job than writing, but both revolve around stories, on shaping a narrative. And both require a great deal of humility and empathy.

What has been the best thing so far about being published?

The best thing has been the opportunity to meet so many fantastic people! The young adult book community, as it turns out, is smaller than I thought; which has been nice because it’s afforded me the chance to get to know other writers. They’ve shared their personal stories of perseverance with me and they’ve given me great advice throughout this entire journey; it’s been a tremendous (and unexpected) help!

You say in your introduction that it is your “refusal to say goodbye” to lost loved ones. Did you find yourself using any real memories in the story or is it all fictional?

So, I actually struggled with the idea of writing a story that stemmed from those personal losses. I wasn’t sure that I had the right to include those personal memories because they were no longer around to share their opinions; because of that, I did not use any specific memories in OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS. But the characters are certainly composites of people that I love; people that have loved me.

Jack has extremely supportive parents, something often missing in YA and very much missing from his friends’ lives, was that the case from the very first draft?

I love this question! The answer is yes! It was absolutely the case from the very first draft. There were a couple of things about this story that I knew from the beginning beginning—one was that Jack’s voice would be the focal point, and another was that he would have a very loving and dynamic support network—the center of which would be his parents. Not only was it important to me that their love for Jack be front and center, but that their love for his friends would feel the same. I think much of the parents’ instincts to love and support Jack (and company) stems from their deep (and sometimes super affectionate haha) love for each other.

You reference ‘Groundhog Day’, were there any other time travel influences that you’d recommend?

I love the movie ‘About Time’! If you haven’t seen it yet, please do yourself a favor and correct that immediately!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I just finished a great book called ‘Let Me Hear a Rhyme’ by Tiffany D. Jackson; at first glance it may appear to be a departure from her previous work—stories intent on drawing attention to the disregarded and giving voice to the overlooked—but at her newest novel’s core is the same heart and urgency present in all of her stories. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves music, values friendship, and enjoys superb storytelling.

Any plans to come to the UK?

I definitely want to visit the UK! Is this an invitation? 😀

I’m afraid we can’t stretch the budget to airfares, but I know a lot of librarians that would definitely love to meet you if you do come over!

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS is out in the UK on the 4th April 2019.

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist


Joe Quinn tells everyone about the poltergeist in his house, but no one believes him. No one that is, except for Davie. He’s felt the inexplicable presence in the rooms, he’s seen random objects fly through the air. And there’s something else … a memory of his beloved sister, and a feeling deep down that somehow it might be possible for ghosts to exist.


David Almond is one of the most interesting writers for children in the UK, creating unique, thought provoking, and curious stories and characters (including the much loved ‘Skellig’). ‘Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist’ is one that is heavily influenced by his childhood near Newcastle, growing up in a Catholic family living in a council estate (until he was 13). The introduction tells us a bit about this background, his loss of a sister when he was aged 7, and his love of reading and libraries. The story itself is not so much a ghost story as a story of a boy hoping for something, coming to terms with grief, and realising that life goes on even while you work out what you believe.

I had already read ‘Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist’, as it is one of the short stories in his collection ‘Half a Creature from the Sea‘, published by Walker in 2014, but reading it again with Dave McKean‘s illustrations was a whole new experience. When judging the Kate Greenaway nominations, you need to consider how much the illustrations are an integral part of the story, whether it would be the same or lesser without them, and this is one where I would easily say that it leaves a lasting impression far enhancing that of the words on their own. The pacing of the text and placement in and around the illustrations flows beautifully, the pages are so evocative while the faces of the characters show so much emotion, and I fully expect to see this on the 2020 Greenaway longlist.

Thankyou so much to Walker books for sending me a copy of ‘Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist‘ to review. Their site suggests it is for readers aged 9+, I’d put a heavy emphasis on the ‘+’ because it is one of those that can be skimmed or read deeply and speaks on many levels.

This is the fourth of Almond’s books that McKean has illustrated, Slog’s Dad and The Savage are a similar format and of a similar brilliance, ‘Mouse Bird Snake Wolf’ is suitable from a slightly younger age. I suggest if you’ve not seen them already you seek them out too!

High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

If you think finding a body is a fun adventure, you’re 33% right.

fantastic cover art by Wumzum


There has been a murder in THE TRI, the high-rise buildings where know-it-alls Nik and Norva live. Armed with curiosity, local knowledge and unlimited time – until the end of the summer holidays – the dogged and determined detective duo take it upon themselves to solve the complicated mystery.

Sharna Jackson’s debut novel for children is set in a tower block (surprisingly enough) on a SE London estate. Our detective duo are sisters Nik and Norva, aged 11 and 13, living with their dad on the estate. He is the caretaker of the block and, also, becomes the main suspect when the sisters find the body of their art teacher. Luckily they’ve been honing their detecting skills and are ready for a bigger mystery to solve!

It isn’t only brilliant because it is the first Black British children’s detective series for 9-12s, it is brilliant because it is one of the best children’s detective mysteries I have ever read.

I enjoyed reading this *so* much. It is pretty long for a “middle grade” book (I say MG, but it could easily be enjoyed by older teens as well…and indeed adult readers), but the pages flew by as the investigation continued. Really pleased that it is the first in a series, I want as many of these as there are Poirot novels please!

HIGH RISE MYSTERY is beginning to appear in shops now!

(huge thanks to Colour PR for asking me if I’d like a copy to review)

The Third Degree with Keren David

Barrington Stoke (my old faves) very kindly sent me a copy of The Disconnect, Keren David’s next novella for them, to review.

How will a group of teenagers react when they are offered £1,000 to give up their mobile phone in Keren David’s thought-provoking story of perspective and influence.When an eccentric entrepreneur challenges a class to give up their phones, offering a prize of £1,000 to the one who lasts the longest, Esther is determined to win. But ignoring the draw of technology is difficult and it’s not as easy as she thought to resist that niggling urge. Can she hold out long enough to win the money and what else can Esther and her friends discover when they’re not glued to their screens? An astute and enthralling examination of the highs and lows of social-media life, from one of the most compelling voices in teenage fiction

As usual for a Barrington Stoke title, it says a lot with a few words. What I loved about this book, was that it wasn’t telling teenagers to get off their phones altogether but that perhaps it is worth looking up occasionally…and that parents and other adults are as guilty as teens about overusing their screens! In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I pestered Keren for the Third Degree…

Hi Keren, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

What prompted you to write about mobile phone use?

It’s such a huge thing in teenagers’ lives – all of our lives – and I thought it would be good to think about all the things, good and bad that we get from our phones. It’s something that I talk to my children about a lot. And I’d also been talking to a friend whose daughter was being bullied, and a lot of that was happening within Snapchat groups. I had a long talk with my son to work out what might actually tempt teenagers to put down their phones – money, we concluded. 

Do you have any advice for teens that might be worried about social media ruling their lives?


Give yourself a break. Even switching off once a week for 24 hours can put things into proportion, and help you create a sense of yourself that is separate from social media. 

The descriptions of food were wonderful, what inspired Basabousa?

On a very superficial level, I love Middle Eastern food and enjoy going to restaurants where it is served. On a deeper level, at a time of growing antisemitism, I wanted to create a benign character who is Israeli but whose family is originally from an Arab land – as they tend to get ignored in the overheated political narrative. 

This isn’t your first title for Barrington Stoke, how did you first get involved with them?

I loved their mission and books, and wanted to write for them for a long time. Then I had a letter from a dyslexic boy who said he’d enjoyed my books. So my agent used it as a way to approach Barrington Stoke, and luckily they were keen for me to write for them. 

Is writing a novella a very different process to writing a longer novel?

It’s similar but much more concise – no time to dwell on minor characters or sub-plots. I like it! 

If you go into schools, do you prefer writing workshops or author talks?

I’m equally happy to do either. With writing workshops I try and do something that is fun, because I feel that often the enjoyment is sucked out of writing at school. I do one exercise where pupils create characters, then work in pairs to bring those characters together into a plot. Then – after a lot of laughing and excitement – I tell them that’s how my first book started, by doing that very exercise in a creative writing class. 

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve just finished Tracey Thorn’s memoir Another Planet: A Teenager in Surburbia (Canongate) which was an extraordinary read for me, as Tracey and I were in the same class at school and did all the same A levels. A lot of it felt like reading my teenage diaries. I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially those of us who were teens in the late 70s. And I’ve just started reading Karen’s McCombie’s Little Bird Flies  (Nosy Crow) which is an absolutely beautiful, emotionally gut-wrenching story, perfect for sensitive 10 to 14 year olds. 

 What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

I’ve just started work on a new book, so I hope that’ll be a good experience! 

The Disconnect is out on 15th April 2019

Kick the Moon by Muhammad Khan


Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSE’s are looming and his teachers just won’t let up, his dad wants him to join the family business and his mates don’t care about any of it. There’s no space in Ilyas’ life to just be a teenager.
Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, who is fed up with being pigeonholed as the good girl, and their friendship blows the social strata of high school wide open. But when Kelly catches the eye of one of the local bad boys, Imran, he decides to seduce her for a bet – and Ilyas is faced with losing the only person who understands him. Standing up to Imran puts Ilyas’ family at risk, but it’s time for him to be the superhero he draws in his comic-books, and go kick the moon.

Waaay back in July 2018, I mentioned Muhammad Khan‘s debut novel in my review for The Muslims by Zanib Mian (soon to be republished by Hachette, with some tweaks including new illustrations by Nasaya Mafaridik, as Planet Omar), so feel I should give him his own space this time to explain why his second book is already looking to be one my my books of the year 2019!

Ilyas has to be one of my favourite characters in UKYA, full stop. He is a teenage boy who is committed to his Muslim faith, proud of his mother, loves comics and drawing, hates violence and misogyny, friend to Kelly, and (with her help) a burgeoning feminist. The inclusion of bits of comic strip drawn by Ilyas (actually by Amrit Birdi) is a brilliant hook, and his character Big Bad Waf is actually brilliant. His school is well imagined, the banter is honest, and his thought processes are totally believable as he tries to walk a path between what he wants, what his family wants, and what his ‘friends’ want. It is definitely one to have in every secondary library, and it covers so many “issues” in a non-preachy way that it is a great one to discuss with students.

Kick the Moon‘ is out now from Macmillan (thank you so much guys for hosting our January CILIP YLG London event and giving me a copy!)

The Third Degree with Emma Shoard


Sandie has been battling it since her childhood; the hulking, snarling black dog of her nightmares. Although her precious pet dog Rabbie may have fought back against this monster for years, when he is no longer there to protect her the black dog will return and Sandie’s nightmare will come back to haunt her…

Barrington Stoke are this month posthumously publishing their second Mal Peet novella, Good Boy. Both have been illustrated by Emma Shoard, and The Family Tree has been longlisted for the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Good Boy on the 2020 list, I was sent a copy and read it holding my breath, that final page left me stunned for a few minutes. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ask Emma some questions…

Hi Emma, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

Can you tell us how you came to illustrate this book?

The commission from Barrington Stoke to illustrate Good Boy came at the same time as The Family Tree; two Mal Peet novellas as a pair. It was a very exciting moment for me as I’d heard suggestions that I was being considered for the job about a year before but had to wait to find out for sure. I’m not exactly sure how I was selected but I think it had something to do with Mal’s wife Elspeth Graham. That gave me confidence knowing that she believed that I would do justice to his work. 

This is the second Mal Peet story you’ve illustrated for Barrington Stoke, as well as Siobhan Dowd’s ‘Pavee and the Buffer Girl’, both very well respected names, both sadly deceased. Did you feel daunted at all when you started the projects? Has it got easier?

Yes, it is daunting working with someone else’s creation particularly when you know it was one of their final pieces of work, or one of very few pieces they made in the case of Siobhan Dowd. So I’ve always been aware that the stories are very precious to those close to the author and their fans. Fortunately this has never negatively effected the experience of working on them. While illustrating Mal Peet’s stories I had a lot of contact with Elspeth Graham and with the publishers, creating more of a feeling of collaboration. With Good Boy particularly, there was a really good conversation throughout, discussing the story’s possible meanings and the interpretation of the black dog.

I’m always nervous sending off any first sketches or ideas to somebody new because I don’t know exactly what expectations they have of me and whether or not I’ll meet them. I’m not sure that part ever gets any easier, but for me it’s good to feel a bit of fear and have that pressure.

I love the way you draw people, just the posture you have someone standing in speaks volumes, does that mainly come from people watching and practicing or is it a technique you were taught?

Thanks! I find people and living things really interesting to draw, especially when they’re moving, dancing, making something. It all comes from observing and drawing people from life, but in a way it is a combination of both of those things you mentioned. I was taught by a really good life drawing teacher at university; very critical. I would be forced to draw figures more and more as they were, not straightened, softened or altered by a pre-conceived idea of what parts of a body should look like.
I do also use films, youtube videos and photographs as reference, with a preference for moving images because you can pause them and draw all of the difference stages of an action or gesture to understand it better.

How different is your process when you do live drawing events as opposed to illustrating a text?

I’m not sure it is that different. I like to use the same materials when I’m drawing live as I would in my studio: ink, brushes, charcoal. Also I find that I work well under time pressure so when I’m in my studio I make a lot of quick drawings, and sometimes a drawing which took only a few minutes will become a finished illustration in a book. Though, when illustrating a whole book there is always a lot more time spent planning, research, designing characters and playing with different materials. 

When visiting schools, do you prefer doing storytelling or creative workshops? What age group do you prefer to work with?

When teaching a creative workshop I like to work with small groups, again it’s nice to have that feeling of collaboration which you can have when you’re able to talk to people one-to-one about their work. I think I’ll always prefer these more casual interactions than to stand up and teach a big class, but I’m getting over my fears. I’ve put on workshops and live drawing performances for children as young as 8/9 up to adults, and I haven’t decided on a preferred group yet. Though my books are all aimed at a YA audience and they are the ones I love creating illustrations for.

What advice would you give to a child that told you they’d like to illustrate books one day?

There are a few different routes you can take and studying at university isn’t necessary for everyone. But I did find that studying illustration at that level, with all of my strict and critical tutors, really helpful. I’d say that the most important thing when it comes to studying at any level is to be really interested in your subjects, don’t choose them based on what other people say you should be doing. If you want to be an illustrator start working towards it straight away, don’t think that you can squeeze it in at the weekend after you’ve done all of your other homework. Draw for fun. Don’t throw away all the ‘bad’ drawings, they tell the story of how you got to where you are.

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I’m re-reading the first book in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series, My Brilliant Friend which I loved. But at the same time Evening Descends Upon the Hills by another Neopolitan writer, Anna Maria Ortese, who I think was a big influence on Ferrante. Ortese’s stories are part-fiction, partly reportage and describe terrible poverty, violence and despair in the city during the 1950s. I love Naples and I want to learn more about it. I’d recommend Elena Ferrante’s books to almost anyone, there is romance, drama, politics and it’s a really vivid portrait of a friendship between two girls and of the neighborhood they live in. Evening Descends Upon the Hills is also brilliant but bleak. 

Anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

I’m preparing for the release of Good Boy at the moment and preparing for school visits, festival events and a prison workshop, all happening throughout Spring and Summer. Being in between books, I’m working on some personal projects which is really nice to be able to do. In particular, I’m finishing a proposal for a non-fiction wildlife book to take to Bologna in April.

Thank you so much to Emma for taking time to answer the questions! Good Boy is published on 15th March 2019

Warhammer Adventures

When I was asked if I’d like to take part in a blog tour for the beginning of a new middle grade series of Warhammer Adventures from the Games Workshop, I knew I couldn’t turn it down! I first chatted with Matt (the original TeenLibrarian himself) at a training session for public library staff considering starting 40k clubs and he quickly became one of my favourite people, so even though I didn’t get very far with a Warhammer club (I moved to a school library pretty soon after that training, took the set with me and let a member of staff run a club!) it holds very fond memories for me. Anyway, to the books! They look fantastic, the illustrators Cole Marchetti and Magnus Noren have done a great job of bringing the characters to life, and they’re very clearly aimed at a younger audience than existing novels while still having the look of the same universe.
If you have any young Warhammer fans in your library, they might well not be ready to read the (much denser) novels already available but these will certainly whet their appetite. They are tremendously exciting and great fun to read, so I’m really pleased to be able to share these insights into the background to the stories, from the authors themselves, Cavan Scott followed by Tom Huddleston:

Cavan Scott is the author of Attack of the Necron, the first book in the Warped Galaxies series.

Hello, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure. My name’s Cavan Scott and I’m an author and comic book writing who lives in the UK. For nearly twenty years, I’ve contributed to some of the biggest fictional universes on the planet, including Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, Pacific Rim, The Incredibles and many more. My latest book, Attack of the Necron is the first in a new series set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Can you tell us more about the series?

Warhammer Adventures: Warped Galaxies takes place in a war-torn future were humans use technology, but have largely forgotten how it works. The spaceships are gothic, the tech is a weird-mash up of medieval and futuristic, and the aliens are terrifying. What’s not to love about people who turn human skulls into floating robots or courageous Space Marines fighting green-skinned orcs on distant planets?

The books follow explorer Zelia Lor, ganger Talen Stormweaver and Martian inventor Mekki as they escape a terrible planetary disaster. They have to get an ancient alien artefact back into the hands of Zelia’s Mum. There’s only one problem: they have no idea where she is, and everyone they meet seems determined to destroy them. OK, that’s two problems, but trust me, things are never easy for these kids.

What are the three things you discovered when writing these books?

Well, I never really played Warhammer 40,000 growing up, but came to the universe via novels and audio dramas. While I knew a fair bit, there was still a lot to dig into. Warhammer 40,000 is huge, with literally thousands of years of backstory. The trick with these books was making sure that I wrote stories that could be understood by anyone, whether you’re drenched in Warhammer lore or a complete newbie. It meant I had to do a lot of research to make sure I got things right. I treated it like writing a historical novel, studying a history that hasn’t happened yet!

The things I discovered were:

A) Warhammer gamers are incredibly passionate about their hobby.
They’ve invested a lot of time into playing the game and also understanding how the universe works. That meant that I had to treat these books with respect. We’ve worked hard to make sure that they’re appropriate for the right age-group, but also feel like a legitimate Warhammer 40,000 story.

B) Challenges make better stories.
As I said, I’ve spent a lot of time writing in well-known universes, and each has its own rules and conventions. Warhammer 40,000 has the added challenge that much of the cosmos is completely unknowable for those who live in it. Your average person doesn’t know how any technology works, or about the dangers that lurk on every planet. There’s no widescale communication and most folk blindly accept the teachings of humanity’s leader, the immortal Emperor of Mankind. What’s more, they can never really find out, as the society that has been established will fall apart. There are some pretty rigid rules about what your characters can or can’t experience. However, that just means that you have to be even more creative in working within those rules, especially when you’re writing someone’s introduction to a vast fictional world. It’s been fun navigating my way through all that, and I think that it’s led to stronger, more exciting adventures!

C) I buy too many action figures and models.
OK, this isn’t exactly a discovery, as my wife will attest. I’m a grown man who loves toys. My study is packed with Daleks, space-ships, droids, LEGO sets and superhero figures. However, Warhammer Adventures has opened up an entire new world for me to collect. I originally tried to limit myself to one set of figures, or maybe a vehicle, from each of the books in the series, but have repeatedly broken that resolution. On the upside, I’m sitting here writing this with a super-cool Necron Doom Scythe fighter on my desk!

Tom Huddleston is the author of City of Lifestone, the first book in the Realm Quest series.

Hello, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Tom Huddleston and I’m an author and film writer based in London, England. Like Cavan, I wrote three episodes in the official Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space series, and now I’m the author of the Realm Quest books, part of the Warhammer Adventures universe.

Can you tell us more about the series?

The Realm Quest stories take place across the Mortal Realms, eight interconnected worlds filled with epic landscapes, ferocious creatures and limitless potential for adventure. When their master Vertigan is kidnapped by the devious rat-men known as the Skaven, five brave children must band together to get him back. The quest will take them across the different Realms, encountering fierce beasts, noble guardians and all manner of mayhem.

What are the three things you discovered when writing these books?

A) The Warhammer Universes are vast beyond belief. 

The most remarkable thing I discovered when I began researching and writing these books was simply how huge the Warhammer universe is – developed over decades, it must be the most massive and immersive invented world ever created. The sheer wealth of imagination and creativity on display is completely breathtaking, and I’m honoured to be given the chance to invent my own small corner of it.

B ) Creating characters within this universe was a bit of balancing act.

Creating a new group of characters to inhabit this world was an interesting challenge. They had to be relatable to young readers – it had to feel like their struggles were real, despite the fact that they live in this epic, fantastical realm. They had to be tough enough to survive in a world where almost everything is trying to kill them, but not so tough that they felt superhuman. And most of all, they had to be likeable enough so that readers would keep coming back to hear more about their adventures.

C ) Inventing Warhammer villains is really enjoyable! 

I also discovered how much fun it is to write Warhammer villains. From the devious, scheming rat-men known as the Skaven to a whole lot of ghoulish entities who crop up later in the series (no spoilers!), the Mortal Realms are just full of terrifically nasty, wonderfully unpleasant bad guys. How will our noble heroes fare against this rogue’s gallery of creeping, crawling, scuttling horrors? Well that would be telling…

Maisie’s Scrapbook – review

As the seasons turn, Maisie rides her bull in and out of Dada’s
tall tales. Her Mama wears linen and plays the viola. Her
Dada wears kente cloth and plays the marimba. They come
from different places, but they hug her in the same way. And
most of all, they love her just the same. A joyful celebration
of a mixed-race family and the love that binds us all together.

You all know what a big fan I am of Lantana and their books, so I was delighted when Katrina offered to send me a copy of ‘Maisie’s Scrapbook‘ to review. I was even more delighted when I read it and saw that it really is a beautiful tale, of loving parents bringing features from their heritages together to create a wonderful environment for their daughter to grow up in. As the blurb says, “they come from different places, but they hug her in the same way“. No two parents have identical backgrounds, but it is important to show (mirrors and windows) that parents with even the most obvious cultural differences cannot disagree on how much they love and support their child, and I can only imagine how amazing it must feel for a mixed race child to see a family similar to theirs portrayed (huge respect to single parents who, for whatever reason, don’t have the support of a partner).

Samuel Narh’s words, featuring Dada’s tall tales and Mama’s comfort through the seasons, are from Maisie’s perspective. Simply stated observations on small and big things. They are so effective because of the emotive illustrations by Jo Loring-Fisher bringing those tales to life, making the reader feel how she’s feeling, and showing the affection the family feels for one another. Look out for it when it is published on 7th March!


The Third Degree with David Owen

David Owen’s latest book, All The Lonely People, is released on 10th January. It is a fantastic read with a fascinating premise: can you be so lonely that you actually disappear? There are two main characters, who rarely meet but their paths are entwined when Wesley’s “friends” choose Kat as a target for an online hate campaign with the intention of hounding her off the internet. Kat (like me as a teenager tbh) only feels like she can be herself online, and so as she deletes her accounts she herself begins to fade in real life. The Kat storyline resonated but Wesley’s side was the outstanding side for me – he’s trying to find a place to fit in but has chosen a toxic community that he realises he doesn’t agree with but fears he’s in too deep to get out. I was so impressed with his confused and also lonely voice, and hope it isn’t too much of a spoiler to say I was very pleased with his redemption without forgiveness. It is a brilliant examination of the damage of toxic masculinity and the ease with which lonely boys can be indoctrinated by misogynistic online groups, something I’ve not seen in YA before, as well as a touching look at the prevalence of lonliness in teens and how important it is to remember that no one has it together but some people fake it better. There is no “get off the internet and find a real friend” moral, but it does lead the reader to think about the potential pitfalls of social media use.

In fact, I loved it so much that I pinned him down to ask a few questions:

Hi David, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

All the Lonely People is about online culture, did you spend a lot of your teenage years online?

Waaay too much time! I was part of the first generation to grow up with online culture. I spent an inordinate amount of time in chat rooms and forums, and I had LiveJournal, MySpace, and was an early adopter of Facebook. I’ve been online since I was about ten years old. 

I spent most of my online time on an RPG video game forum that had quite a small but very active community. The opinions of these people came to really matter to me. If I said something stupid or accidentally broke a rule there, I’d feel bad about it for days. It was so stupid! That was my first taste of how an online life can have a significant impact on your wellbeing.  

Do you have any words of wisdom for teenagers, like Kat, who feel like their online presence is more important than their real world presence?

I’m not sure about words of wisdom. It’s so easy for me to encourage people to disconnect a little and not take it quite so seriously, but the reality is very different. Social media is such an integral part of the lives of young people now, much more so than when I was a teenager. There is a sense that if you’re not online, or if you don’t get enough attention there, you don’t exist. And one wrong move can be instantly seen by the entire world. 

I suppose all I can say is to encourage teenagers to seek out people, whether online or in the ‘real world’, who share similar values, who have similar interests, and who will treat them with kindness. Those are the people that matter, rather than striving to gain the approval of people who don’t care about you. Use your online presence to enhance your life – if the negatives begin to outweigh the positives, it’s time to reassess how you use the internet. 

What inspired the title?

It is shamelessly lifted from the Beatles song ‘Eleanor Rigby’. I listened to it a lot while I was writing the book, because it’s such a terrifically melancholy song, and quite succinctly sums up the isolating experience of loneliness. And, of course, it fitted in well with the Lonely People group in the story, and the idea that more people than you realise are struggling with feeling alone. 

Your day job as a journalist obviously involves a lot of writing, how easy is it to switch between researching for articles and writing fiction?

Switching between the two modes of writing isn’t something I find too difficult. They’re sufficiently different that my brain can easily differentiate them. The fact I go to an office for my day job and then write fiction at my desk at home also helps! The only real problem is time and tiredness – after a day of work, especially one that’s involved a lot of writing, the last thing I want to do is sit down at a computer and write some more, even if it is something different. So sometimes fiction has to wait. 

You’ve chaired a few panels at events in recent years, who were your favourite panellists and what would you love to chair next?

I’m going to give a cop out answer here and say I’ve loved everybody I’ve chaired – but it’s true. It was an honour to chair Melvin Burgess because he’s such a titan of YA fiction and listening to him talk is fascinating. Taran Matharu talks really eloquently about fantasy fiction, and Alice Oseman was also a delight to chair. 

I’d love to chair a panel of authors of really weird YA fiction – like Andrew Smith, Margo Lanagan, M. T. Anderson, authors that really push what YA can be. I think that would be really interesting.  

If you go into schools, do you prefer writing workshops or author talks?

I like a mix of both! A talk is a good way to introduce yourself and your books and talk about the things that really matter to you to hopefully get them thinking. But not many school kids want to be talked at for an hour straight, and doing workshops is a great way to keep them engaged and to encourage a love for reading and writing, which is ultimately what we’re trying to do. Young people are so creative, I think authors often get more out of the workshops than they do!


What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve just (figuratively) cracked the new Alex Wheatle novel ‘Home Girl’, which is the next in his brilliant Crongton series. They’re such unique books, packed with the types of characters we don’t see enough in YA, and the writing is just brilliant. I’d recommend to pretty much anyone, but particularly to people who are cynical about YA and how tremendously powerful it can be. 

What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

In books? Better representation of marginalised voices, better coverage of children’s books in the national press, and for our libraries to be protected. In the world? For everything to be significantly less terrible.

I also wouldn’t mind All the Lonely People being a bestseller…

You won’t regret it!